From: David Seubert <[log in to unmask]>
> The only way to determine for certain if a record is an alternate
> take is to have access to the original documentation (or a
> discography that used it) and understand the system the company
> used. Everything else, A/B comparisons, "golden ears," micrometer
> measurements, or my marks on pieces of paper are speculative to
> varying degrees. In the absence of concrete information on how
> a company marked takes in the wax (information I don't have for
> Emerson) it's all just "Bixing."
I shudder to think what would happen if I were to forward your message
to Fr. Jerome Webber. Although he is a man of God, he has a temper, and
one of his passions is for proper discographcal standards. He has been
the conscience of ARSC discographical standards for 40 years. He, and
almost every other experienced discographer will tell you that this
statement is the absolute worst advice that could possibly be given.
The paperwork means NOTHING. NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING. The ONLY thing
that matters is the RECORD. If the record exists, it is the be-all and
end-all of discography. NOTHING COMES BEFORE THE EVIDENCE OF THE RECORD
ITSELF. NOTHING. And discographies that rely ONLY on the company
documentation is not worth the paper it is printed on, or the bits and
bytes it fills in computers, servers, or CD-ROMs.
He spent years, and travelled tens of thousands of miles to actually see
and listen to every record in his Gregorian Chant Discography. He found
HUNDREDS of errors in all kinds of paperwork EVEN ON THE RECORD LABELS
THEMSELVES. Although this was a very unusual case, he found that the
only way he could even be sure of what chant was actually recorded on
the record was to listen to it. Recording ledgers had errors. Catalogs
had errors. Discographies had errors. Reviews had errors. The ONLY
thing that did not have errors are the grooves. If no copies of the
record could be found anywhere in the world -- and I mean ANYWHERE in
the WHOLE WORLD -- only then would he rely solely on on prior paperwork,
even recording ledgers. Even if the LABEL said one thing and the
grooves showed that there was a different chant recorded, the chant that
was recorded was listed (with a notation about the label error and other
errors that might have come from it). He grew to distrust ALL
paperwork. The only thing that mattered was the music in the grooves
and the original ancient manuscripts of the chants that he found in
monasteries, archives, and collections all over the world.
As I said, this is an extreme case because it involved a genre of music
that is very difficult for any but experts to decipher, but I don't
think there is a reputable discographer who would take the evidence of
paperwork over what is contained in the grooves of a record. I know
first-hand that the discographic standards of many of the finest
discographers require confirmation that the records themselves were
actually consulted to confirm information from outside sources. Most
have codes in their original notes of where the info came from, who
submitted it, who actually had the record itself, in order to decide
what info to use. You are the ONLY person I have ever known in the
field in over 40 years who would consider placing primacy of something
like a discography that used ledger information over the evidence of the
Today the list was given info on where to get on-line access to WERM and
the Gramophone Shop Encyc. Fine. I own hard copies of these. But I
have also been warned that there are factual errors to be found on every
page of WERM. Over on the 78-L we have several German, Swedish and
Norwegian discographical experts who constantly are giving corrections
to listings of European classical recordings that others find in
standard discographical sources like WERM. We all know that if we need
info on a record we have we can ask on the list for info, and if enough
people have enough different sources we might get the correct info. If
someone sees a listing of something, every so often we get corrections
from someone who owns the record -- or several people who own it.
If you consult five jazz discographies you will find six answers, and if
you have the record you might find that all six are wrong. At the Jazz
Bash this weekend John Leifert had his corrected copy of Rust's American
Dance Band Discography, compiled from ledger sources, catalogs, and
records. There is no page in it without at least 3 or 4 corrections,
many with dozens. (The cover of his Vol 1 disappeared long ago.) NO
discography is 100% correct. NONE.
> I was hoping that somebody had information on the take numbering/marking
> system used by Emerson. Without this information, I'm going to choose
> the most accurate and most efficient means of speculating on what are
> alternate takes and what are not.
EFFICIENT? Yes. Accurate? You can't tell. If you refuse to listen to
the records (and I have a feeling that you now cannot listen to them
because to do that would be admitting defeat) then you will never know
whether your system was accurate. You could say it was accurate, but
there is no way you can prove it once the records have gone.
> In the cases where I've used my method on Victor discs with no
> marked takes and then compared my results to the documentation,
> my method has been able to reliably predict whether an alternate
> take was issued.
If you haven't listened to them, you haven't confirmed if your
predictions are correct. I have found evidence of forged sheets in the
Victor files, markings that were changed to fit production changes. And
what about test pressings of unissued takes? Pressings of test
recordings? Issues of dubbed masters? Factory errors? Some of these
are evident by sight, but some are evident only audibly.
The irony of all this is that in Leah's documentary I talk about often
needing to see a recording rather than hearing it. But if you listen
carefully to what I say, the examination of the recording is usually for
the confirmation or explanation of what had been already heard. Both is
> Measuring with a micrometer would produce a more accurate measurement
> but without knowledge of the system it still wouldn't remove the
> speculative element of whether a disc is an alternate take.
I've given reasons why this is not a reliable method of determining
takes, so I agree with you. Two records that look the same but sound
different ARE DIFFERENT.
> I could record my caliper measurements and A/B every pair of
> records in the collection, but that would leave an awful lot
> of more important work undone
AH HA! EFFICIENCY IS YOUR GOAL, NOT ACCURACY. You are willing to have
errors as long as your method is EFFICIENT. WHY DIDN'T YOU COME OUT AND
TELL US THAT YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PILES OF WORK DONE WHETHER IT IS DONE
CORRECTLY OR NOT???????????????????
> and I'd have a big warehouse of records that are uncataloged,
> unsorted, and unused rather than an organized and accessible
> archive of sound recordings.
Then determining alternate takes is the LAST and FINAL step to take. Why
are you doing it first? Sort the records, catalog the records, shelve
the records, and later on, when they are all sorted, cataloged, and
shelved, then, and only then, if the question comes up as to whether
there are alternate takes, THEN you check them. Don't do it FIRST!!!
Do it last.
> I also still maintain that aural memory is unreliable (though it does
> vary from person to person),
What are your qualifications to make this statement???? You might be a
trained cataloger, but are you a trained LISTENER??? I have no doubt
you are the former, a very well trained cataloger. I see evidence in
your writings that you are not a trained listener.
>> I've never really relied on aural comparison (though it is obvious in
>> some cases.) I don't trust my ears enough to detect the often slight
>> variations between takes.
And that you have an attitude that might preclude you becoming a trained
> and furthermore, simultaneously playing two records is great
> for a night of cigars and trading collecting war stories,
> but is totally unrealistic in an archive.
There you go again. EFFICIENCY. Get your records sorted, cataloged,
and shelved, and then if the question comes up turn the specific records
in question over to someone who IS qualified. Being an efficient
manager means hiring people who have the skills you need.
> Yet before I get attacked again for being lazy or incompetent, I
> would point out that managing an archive is ultimately a matter
> of managing priorities.
I have no doubt that you are a very efficient and competent archive
manager. But perhaps you are making the matter of alternate takes an
improperly understood priority without hiring staff with the necessary
> That's at the core of archival appraisal, something that a few
> collectors might want to take a course in. Archival science is as much
> about the process of making decisions about what not to keep, not just
> about knowing what to keep. David Seubert UCSB
AH HA! RETENTION! Retention has reared its ugly head. This is a
subject that has been battled out at ARSC, IASA, IAML, MLA, etc for more
years than you have been involved and even I have been involved. It was
being argued when I entered the research field over 40 years ago. And
every researcher going back to the days of the ancient Greeks can give
you their examples of archives, libraries, and collections which
discarded the very things that were needed for their research. Whenever
there is a retention policy that is decided on by a cataloger,
librarian, archivist who is not a USER and a RESEARCHER, there is a
disaster. Every researcher can cite specific examples where catalogers
and librarians were entrusted with the retention policy and made
Here is a warning for archives: your reputation among researchers is
dependent primarily on your retention policy, secondly on your access,
third on your cataloging, and fourth on your storage procedures. ARSC
was formed back in the 1960s as a way to bring researchers/collectors
together with archives and libraries. Many of the sessions back in the
60s and 70s discussed these four things. While researchers appreciate a
well cataloged collection, they were astonished to find that so many
archivists and librarians were obsessed with cataloging to the detriment
of other things. "Keep out till we get it cataloged!" Thankfully this
policy was the first thing that was discarded by the archivists that
were there back in the early 70s. We also told them, don't discard
anything without consulting us. And back then they understood that users
and researchers knew more about what they needed for their use and
research than did the catalogers, librarians, and archivists. For
example, back then LC was very poorly cataloged. Record catalogs were
finding-aids. Collections sat in different areas. But soon we heard
Don Leavitt, Bob Carneal, Jim Smart, and Gerry Gibson saying, "We got it
somewhere, go find it and organize it for us while you are at it." And
soon over and over we early ARSCers met archivists and librarians who
understood that many collectors and researchers knew more about the
records than they did, and were willing to trade info with us and we
But now I am sensing an attitude here that "our catalog means more than
your knowledge". It is like you are telling us "We got the info and we
will tell you what our info tells you it is and you will go
if the evidence of our ears tell us that what you have in your catalog
is bullcrap, we will sit quietly and say that heaven forbid we disagree
with something that is printed on a piece of paper when it is just plain
A DISCOGRAPHY OR A CATALOG IS NOT THE HOLY GRAIL. THE SOUND IN THE
GROOVES IS. And the bixologist might have more experience and know more
than the librarian.
After finishing this I realized that there was something that bothered
me at the very beginning of this discussion.
>> I'm de-duping a stack of 9" Emerson discs
Why? To make an 11-inch stack of these an 8 1/4-inch stack? How many
dupes of these scarce records could you have? Why spend time to reduce
the group maybe 12%? Is shelf space THAT scarce??? And EVERY
restoration engineer will tell you that having dupes is GOOD! Having
two copies to choose from is great, three copies are fantastic, four
copies is nirvana. And I know restorations that were made up of three
or four copies for one side, part of one copy here, then part of another
copy next, etc. Many archives don't discard anything less than a third
Archival retention policy based on shelf space is the least, the
absolutely least academically viable, defendable, intelligent, or
historically sensible policy. It will always come back to bite you.
But all too often the decision maker has long since moved on, and it is
the researcher of the future who gets shot down because some librarian
in the past was anal retentive about their shelf space.
For many years I fought the idea that ARSC conferences should split up
into concurrent sessions. I predicted that the unity among collectors,
catalogers, researchers, and archivists would start to dissolve. That
institutional collections would not understand their users as well as
they had. Two years ago I saw that we were now getting once again a
large number of relatively new institutional representatives, as was
evident in the higher amount of newbie-type questions in the evening
technical forum. Fine, this IS the place to ask and get the info. I
missed last year due to illness, but this year I noticed as I attended
some of the cataloging oriented sessions that all too often we were
being shown cataloging techniques for cataloging technique sake. That
the techniques of manipulating data did not take into account what the
user would use the data for. They were cataloging "things" not
recordings. They were cataloging info that was super keen for the
catalogers but were not what were important for the researcher who was
using the recording. In 1971 it was evident that all too many sound
recording library personnel had been dragged in kicking and screaming
from over at the print side of the library. Many admitted it. We set
up an "Education and Training Committee" which gave a report in Phila in
74, but the sudden death of the chair, Ida Rosen, slowed things down.
But many of the collectors in ARSC took the institutional people under
our wing. Collectors had a major voice in explaining what was needed in
the developing cataloging rules. But now, once again, I don't see the
"content" people at the cataloging sessions, and I don't see the
cataloging people at the content sessions. And the researchers look at
some of the new whizbang cataloging things and wonder "Why?"
As I mentioned earlier, I often have to look at the record in my
research. One of the reasons is often the cataloger doesn't know how to
properly describe the record, or doesn't know what physical descriptive
information is necessary to the researcher. They catalog info that will
help find the dub of the recording but that is all they have been
trained to do, or all they know about recordings. But that info is only
one part of what researchers need, but all too often the catalogers and
librarians are not researchers or users of the archive or all that
familar with the actual records and recordings.
I realize that this has been super-long, but I hope that it will help
explain things that have been bubbling under, which some very simple
questions have now released.
Mike Biel [log in to unmask]
Michael Biel wrote:
> From: David Seubert <[log in to unmask]>
>> James, George Dick et al.
>> Thanks for your help here. Every company is different, but I'm
>> always skeptical that I'm misinterpreting the data if I find
>> too many alternate takes (except Edison). Above about 10% in
>> a given run of 78s
> Perhaps it would make more sense to bring this up on the 78-L where
> there are far more 78 experts than on ARSCList, but I find nothing
> strange in higher percentages of alternate takes on acoustical records.
> All the early century records that stayed in the catalog had alternate
> takes, and even in the post WW I years some labels like Columbia might
> have 20% of their sides with alternate takes. Sometimes three different
> takes. It wasn't just Edison.
> And I am appalled that classical collectors and archives do not
> routinely check multiple classical sets for alternate takes. I find
> them all the time on both Victor and Columbia classicals. (Some of you
> might remember that I discovered a forged sheet in the Rachmaninoff
> artist file at BMG which re-designated alternate takes as the approved M
> master takes on 9 of the 10 sides of his Rach 2 to hide the usage of
> secondary takes for decades, including all the microgroove issues.)
>> like Emerson where I don't know the system used for designating
>> takes, I usually question if what I think are take numbers are
>> stamper numbers or something.
>> I've never really relied on aural comparison (though it is obvious in
>> some cases.) I don't trust my ears enough to detect the often slight
>> variations between takes.
> Surprising statement. I have no problem in many cases, and if there are
> any doubts it is easy to simultaneously play both records. Every
> collector I know does it. I just spent the weekend with jazz collectors
> who can identify a trumpet player in a 12 piece band and identify three
> alternates of some pieces,
>> In the acoustic era it's not exactly like different versions of
>> The Dead doing Dark Star (though many would say these all
>> sound the same too, I suppose), but aural memory is notoriously
> You ARE kidding, of course. Aren't you? You're not?? You don't hear
> differences in jazz solos? In inflections of voice even in regular pop
> records? Timings of instrument or vocal entries? Emphasis of one
> instrument over another of a note here and there? All the collectors I
> know can. My aural memory is notoriously reliable. I've spotted
> alternate takes in records I am familiar with but might not have heard
> in years. I was just tonight watching the LaserDisc of The Court
> Jester, and was listening to hear if the soundtrack songs were the same
> as on the Decca LP -- and I spotted where there was a deviation. I've
> spotted the change in the syncronization of the train bells in different
> pressings of the Original Cast of The Music Man. I hear these
> difference in acoustical recordings as well as any other kind of record.
> My VISUAL memory is not as good, and I know that many people have very
> good visual memories but lousy aural memories. People's brains are just
> wired differently. But it IS possible for some people, many people, to
> spot alternate takes easily.
>> My method is usually to lay the edge of a piece of paper across the
>> center hole of the disc and mark the beginning and end of the grooves.
>> Then I lay this paper on the other disc and see if they match. Even if
>> one take is only a few seconds shorter or longer it will be obviously
>> different as even a couple of grooves difference is noticable.
> My method -- and the method of every other collector I know -- is to
> play the records, simultaneously if necessary. Often time two takes
> will have the exact same time but still sound different. If the takes
> ARE a few seconds shorter or longer the sound of the recordings will be
> MORE obviously different. Different copies might have different groove
> lengths because the engineer might have run the machine longer before or
> after the recording. And of course this doesn't work for Pathe family
> discs since all are dubs. The take indication for Pathe's is the letter
> above the dash because the number after the dash is more of an
> indication of transfer dub number. And I can think of many other cases
> where this doesn't work when some blank grooving can be shaved away,
> either because of extra blank grooving, or else they are adding a
> different lead-out.
>> I'm sure George's method works too, but the paper and pencil method
>> is very quick and we are essentially measuring the same thing in
>> different ways. David
> No, we are measuring the sound, the differences in the sound. There are
> too many flaws in your method. Your method does not take into account
> alternate takes of exactly the same time length but yet are different.
> Etc etc.
> Mike Biel [log in to unmask]
> On Jun 19, 2009, at 11:15 AM, James L Wolf wrote:
>> I've worked a lot with Emersons in the LOC's collection, and while
>> we don't have many duplicates of the same record so that I could
>> aurally compare different takes, I did notice that the matrix
>> information (e.g. 3391-1) was usually matched by the known
>> discographical information. Which, of course, only means that
>> previous discographers have taken that matrix info to be take-number
>> information, but that may count for something.
>> Furthermore, for the acoustic era I don't see anything odd about one
>> copy have 2 first takes and another having a second/third takes.
>> I've seen similar situations on many labels in the acoustic era;
>> Victor, Columbia, Edison, etc.
>> Until something definitive comes along saying otherwise, I think it
>> would be safest to assume that the matrix information refers to the
>> take number.
>>>>> David Seubert <[log in to unmask]> 6/19/2009 1:42 PM >>>
>> I'm de-duping a stack of 9" Emerson discs and in the dead wax there is
>> what appears to be a matrix followed by a take number. However, there
>> are too many different take numbers for me to believe they are take
>> numbers. For example, I have one copy of #9118 with 3391-1/3397-1 and
>> another with 3391-2/3397-3. Are these stampers? Does anybody know
>> how to distinguish alternate takes on Emerson discs?
>> David Seubert, Curator
>> Performing Arts Collection
>> Davidson Library
>> University of California
>> Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9010
>> Tel: 805-893-5444 Fax: 805-893-5749
>> [log in to unmask]
David Seubert, Curator
Performing Arts Collection
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9010
Tel: 805-893-5444 Fax: 805-893-5749
[log in to unmask]